By Sgt. Liane Hatch | 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office, 4th Infantry Division
CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait — Not all skillsets are created equal; some, like riding a bike, come back almost effortlessly. Others, like speaking a different language, degrade when they’re not put to regular use. According to Sgt. Daniel Wygal, operator, RQ-11 Raven Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, falls into the latter category.
“Regular training on the Raven is important because, just like a language, if you don’t use it you lose it,” said Wygal, an infantryman and Raven master trainer with 1st Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division.
For that reason, Wygal, along with about 20 other Soldiers, spent Sept. 25-30, 2019, conducting proficiency training on the Raven systems at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, during the brigade’s rotation to the U.S. Central Command area of operation.
Ravens are a tool used at the company level “to assist companies and battalions with reconnaissance and surveillance in combination with their maneuver,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Raymond Illman, unmanned aerial surveillance operations officer, 3rd ABCT.
Raven UAVs have an effective flight radius of approximately 6.2 miles, and can operate as high as 500 feet above ground, making them difficult to see or hear from the ground.
Operators are required to use a Raven simulator every 30 days and conduct a live launch, 15-minute flight and landing every 150 days in order to maintain proficiency, Illman said.
“Any training opportunity within that 150 days builds proficient operators that can provide a higher level of capability to the company or battalion,” he added.
Staff Sgt. Boris Arias, a cavalry scout and Raven instructor with the New Jersey National Guard’s 1st Squadron, 102nd Cavalry Regiment, which is currently attached to 3rd ABCT, said that he and the brigade’s four master trainers designed the Raven training using a crawl, walk, run methodology, with unit-specific needs in mind.
“The Raven is a versatile system; each different battalion or squadron has different uses for it,” Arias said. “For example, a cavalry squadron might use it, for route reconnaissance; field artillery might use it to get grid coordinates. There (are a lot) of ways to use it and each operator will need to know how to use it to support his or her mission essential tasks.”
Beyond basic operation of the UAVs during the first few days, Arias said the Soldiers trained on more advanced tasks as training continued. On the final day of training, he said, the Soldiers provided reconnaissance for a helicopter landing zone (HLZ) in order to clear the area for air insertion using three UAVs. One provided watch for ground troops and the other two provided a 360-degree screen around the HLZ and the village that was being “assaulted.”
Wygal said 3rd ABCT units mostly use the Raven system during large-scale training events, such as Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site or the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, California. However, frequent training outside of those larger events, help enable readiness across the formation.
“We’re working on building this program up,” Wygal said, adding that the brigade has more training planned for February, when the master trainers intend to hold an initial qualification course, which would create more qualified operators within the brigade.
For the time being, though, Wygal said the current operators were doing well.
“(As) with any other kind of training, we had to get some of the rust out, but after just a couple days of working on these systems, everyone’s picking it right back up with no issues,” he said.